“How Is It, Umpire?” The 1744 Laws of Cricket and Their Influence on the Development of Baseball in America

With this third of sixteen articles by scholars of baseball’s earliest period, a picture will begin to emerge of how the game first flowered in America. (For regular readers of the Our Game blog, my own contributions will be interspersed with these excerpts from Base Ball.) The article below, by Beth Hise, appears in print in a new special issue of the journal Base Ball.  Ms. Hise is a top authority on the commonalities of and contrasts between baseball and cricket. Her 2010 book on the subject is Swinging Away: How Cricket and Baseball Connect (Scala Publishing). A social history museum curator trained at Yale, Beth curated special exhibits on the two games in recent months at both the MCC Museum in London and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

These articles constitute only a portion of the complete special issue and appear courtesy of the publisher. Each article is keyed to the larger Protoball Chronology appearing at http://www.retrosheet.org/Protoball/; for example, the article below, indexed as 1744.1, reflects that it is the first Protoball entry for the year 1744.

1744.1 “How Is It, Umpire?” The 1744 Laws of Cricket and Their Influence on the Development of Baseball in America

Beth Hise

Last Monday afternoon, a match at cricket was play’d on our Common for a considerable Wager, by eleven Londoners, against eleven New Yorkers: The game was play’d according to the London Method; and those who got most notches in two Hands, to be the Winners.1

The earliest surviving laws of cricket are preserved on the edge of a handkerchief titled “The Laws of the Game of Cricket.” In small crowded text, the laws frame a picturesque scene of an early cricket match. The batsmen wield archaic curved bats in front of two-stump wickets, the bowler is poised to release an underhand delivery, and two umpires stand on the field.2 Clearly modeled after one of cricket’s most enduring paintings, Francis Hayman’s Cricket in the Mary-le-bone Fields,3 the handkerchief also shows scorers with their tally sticks in the foreground.4 Eight and a half years later in November 1752, these same laws were typeset for the first time in the New Universal Magazine as “The Game at Cricket, as settled by the Cricket-Club, in 1744, and play’d at the Artillery Ground, London.” And finally, these same laws were printed in pamphlet form in 1755 as The Game at Cricket, as Settled by the Several Cricket-Clubs, Particularly That of the Star and Garter in Pall-Mall.5

From 1744–1755 the wording of the laws remained largely the same, apart from modernizing “ye” to “the,” and dropping the older practice of referring to the ball as “she.” Thus all three versions represent the first recognized laws of the game. While the laws themselves may not have altered, other changes are telling. The titles, for instance, show a progressive adoption of this code, at least among London clubs. The three different formats—from decorative handkerchief to London periodical to portable printed pamphlet—also reflect a growing desire to standardize the competitive game. The 1755 pamphlet was clearly produced for distribution to those interested in a more regulated and formal game.

These developments are of most interest to a baseball readership when compared to equivalent measures in baseball a century or so later. There are similarities. The most obvious and fundamental is that the earliest laws of cricket, like their counterparts in baseball, are nowhere near sufficient to play the game from scratch; they simply prescribe a few elements (probably the ones most disputed) of an otherwise known custom of play.

In September 1743, London’s widely read Gentleman’s Magazine was sourly critical of the increasing popularity of cricket, observing that “noblemen, gentlemen and clergy” had made “butchers, coblers [sic] or tinkers their companions in the game.”6 Newspaper references to the game are plentiful around this time even before its first laws were formalized. For example, in a “great Cricket-Match,” attended by the Prince of Wales in 1733, “11 Surrey Men and 11 of Middlesex … were very hard match’d: the Surrey Men beat only by three Notches.”7 In another example, a “great Cricket-Match” in July 1740 between the Gentlemen of London and the Gentlemen of Chislehurst took place at the popular “Artillery-Grounds.”8 The game was sufficiently familiar in 1738 for the London Daily Post and General Advertiser to describe “large Balls of Fat” in a butchered sheep’s caul as “round like a Cricket-Ball.”9

In general, cricket in southeast England in the 1740s was far more uniform and more widely played than baseball was in America in the 1840s. Indeed it had been played by commonly accepted rules for decades. Why then did it take so long to codify the game formally?

The signed “Articles of Agreement by & between His Grace the Duke of Richmond and Mr. Brodrick” for two cricket matches in 1727 provide a partial answer. This was a time when formally organized cricket matches, as opposed to village matches, were played on private enclosed fields. Wealthy patrons fielded a mix of gentlemen and paid talent (employees or recruits from local villages) and indulged in large wagers on the matches. Articles of agreement helped to avoid disputes, perhaps delaying the need for more widespread standardization.10 In fact, the 16 specific articles agreed to by Richmond and Broderick are in no way idiosyncratic. Rather, they illustrate a game in the process of codification, already settled upon many modern, or near modern, features. Even the two umpires already enjoy a modern authority, for if a player “shall speak or give their opinion, on any point of the Game, they are to be turned out & voided in the Match.”11

Just how remarkably uniform this early cricket was is apparent in a 1751 newspaper report of a match “play’d according to the London Method” by “eleven Londoners, against eleven New Yorkers” for a considerable wager on the New York Commons.12 The match was played in the standard two innings (“those who got most notches in two Hands, to be the Winners”) and with the customary 11 a side. The specific mention of the “London Method” highlights just how recognizable and increasingly widespread the formalized 1744 version of the game had become; yet it would be another full year before the laws were printed in the New Universal Magazine and another four before they would become available in pamphlet form.

Both cricket and baseball (more specifically the “New York” game) were first codified by single clubs in urban hubs—London for cricket, New York for baseball. Yet, neither the Knickerbockers nor the unnamed London “Cricket-Club” (the Marylebone Cricket Club being formed many years later) invented their respective games. Nor were they the first, or only, clubs, but their decisions to “get serious” had lasting effects. They printed their laws and rules in small, easily portable pamphlets that you could slip in your pocket and take to the field, or with you on your travels. And just as the Gotham and Eagle clubs joined the Knickerbockers in 1854 to revise and issue baseball rules to govern them all, so too did several cricket clubs align themselves with an early London club, the Star and Garter, in 1755, setting the stage for fundamental transformations in both sports.

Yet for all the similarities, there are also differences. For a start, large stakes were openly gambled on cricket matches in the 18th century, and newspapers often asked spectators to stay off the field as “several large Bets depend[ed]” on the outcome.13 By the 1790s, specific laws were even introduced to regulate wagering on matches. Gamblers required clarity, and cricket’s first laws of 1744 are significantly more detailed and specific than baseball’s equivalents.14 They are organized in six categories: 1. General; 2. Bowlers (“Laws for Ye Bowlers 4 Balls and Over”); 3. Batters (“Laws for Ye Strikers, or those that are in”); 4. Batters behavior at crease (“Batt Foot or Hand over Ye Crease”); 5. Keepers (“Laws for Wicket Keepers”); 6. Umpires (“Laws for Umpires”).

Comparing these 1744 laws (using the 1755 version’s modernized language) to the first Knickerbocker rules published in 1848 shows some similarities:

Baseball: All disputes and differences relative to the game, to be decided by the Umpire, from which there is no appeal.

Cricket: [Umpires] are sole Judges of all Out and Inns; of all fair and unfair Play; of all frivolous Delays; of all Hurts, whether real or pretended … and his Determination shall be absolute.

Baseball: … the choice of sides to be then tossed for and the first in hand to be decided in like manner.

Cricket: The Pitching the first Wicket is to be determined by the Toss of a Piece of Money … the Party that wins the Toss-up, may order which Side shall go inn first.

Others regulations are surprisingly different:

Baseball: A player running who shall prevent an adversary from catching or getting the ball before making his base, is a hand out.

Cricket: When the Ball is hit up, either of the Strikers may hinder the Catch in his running Ground; or if it is hit directly across the Wickets, the other player may place his Body anywhere within the Swing of the Bat so as to hinder the Bowler from catching it; but he must neither strike at it, nor touch it with his Hands.

Neither specifies the number of players per side but both go into some detail about how a player is given out. Cricket still retains the ruling that umpires “are not to order any Man out, unless appealed to by one of the Players.” Early baseball also followed this practice until the 1870s.15

The Knickerbocker rules directed that the “Ball must be pitched, not thrown, for the bat,” but the first laws of cricket make no mention of a bowler’s action (aside from foot placement). This would soon change as bowlers began to assert themselves more competitively into the game. John Willes of Kent, apparently influenced by his sister whose large skirts made underarm bowling impossible, is credited with raising his arm straight out to the side before releasing the ball in 1807. This so-called roundarm bowling, common by 1816, provoked fierce debate. Bowlers felt it redressed the balance in what had become a batsman’s game, but opponents called it “throwing.” From 1810–1835, almost all revisions to the laws concerned round-arm bowling before the law was finally changed to allow round-arm deliveries on May 14, 1835. By then, bowlers preferred the modern over-arm bowling style and the new law was almost immediately flouted. Many more years of controversy followed before over-arm bowling was finally legalized in 1864.

It is interesting that baseball put itself through this same torturous process. The perception that pitchers fed the ball to the batter was common in both early baseball and cricket. Starting in the 1850s, baseball pitchers likewise circumvented rules designed to restrict their actions. As with cricket, more rules and on-field controversy followed, until the rules on pitching actions were finally liberalized for baseball in 1885.

From 1755–1787, cricket grew rapidly as a competitive game centered around clubs in London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, and, most of all, Hampshire, where the influential Hambledon club did much over the next 40 years to lift and standardize the game. An expanded committee of “Noblemen and Gentlemen of Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Middlesex and London” revised the laws on February 25, 1774,17 and in 1788 the newly formed Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) first issued the laws. Even then, the MCC merely revised the existing laws and reissued them under their own name. It could be argued that the Knickerbockers did much the same but with a far more nascent game in 1845.

All the same, 1788 marks a significant milestone, as cricket historian Colonel R. S. Rait Kerr observed, “from an epoch in which the revisions were carried out at irregular intervals by committees appointed for the occasion, to one during which a single authority has been in continuous session.”18 It took 44 years, and in truth happened more by chance than design. Baseball was far quicker and far more purposeful. A mere nine years after the first Knickerbocker rules were published in pamphlet form, the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) held a convention “for the purpose of discussing and deciding upon a code of laws which shall hereafter be recognised as authoritative in the game.”19

The NABBP and subsequent associations and leagues continued this role and the rules today are revised and reissued every season by Major League Baseball. While equivalent administrative bodies gradually took over national and international cricket, the MCC, a private club based at Lord’s Ground in London, continues to this day to be the custodian of the Laws of Cricket, regularly reviewing them and issuing international updates.

In both cricket and baseball, the first formalized laws define the adult competitive game and distinguish it from earlier carefree days of “whatever goes.” They are the building blocks of the official game, and as such, the few surviving 1744 handkerchiefs, like 1848 copies of the Knickerbocker rules, are amongst the treasures of the early game. But perhaps it is appropriate that they survive today on something as unofficial as a large handkerchief—almost unreadable and pushed to the edges around a large picture of a perfect cricket match in progress. It is far
more about the joy of the game than the dry language of the laws, which is as it should be.

1. New York Gazette Revived: May 6, 1751, p. 2, col. 2.
2. Many 18th century paintings of cricket matches show umpires with bats. It is presumed that this is a holdover from the older practice of batsmen needing to touch a stick, or bat, held by the umpires at each wicket to score a run. By 1744, this had been superseded by the “Popping-Crease,” a horizontal line drawn “exactly Three Feet Ten Inches from the Wicket.”
3. Francis Hayman R.A., Cricket as Played in the Mary-le-bone Fields, c. 1744, oil on canvas, Collection of Marylebone Cricket Club, London.
4. Only five or six original handkerchiefs survive today including one each in the Marylebone and Melbourne Cricket Club collections.
5. Printed in London for M. Read and sold by W. Reeve in Fleet-Street, 1755, this publication was offered for sale May 15, 1755. The MCC Library holds an original copy.
6. Gentlemen’s Magazine: Sept. 1743, quoted in full in: Ford, J. 1972. Cricket: A Social History 1700–1835 (pp. 36–38).
7. St. James’s Evening Post (London, England): July 19, 1733.
8. Daily Post (London, England): July 1, 1740.
9. London Daily Post and General Advertiser (London, England): Jan. 16, 1739. This news was repeated a few days later in Old Common Sense: Or, the Englishman’s Journal and Country Journal or The Craftman.
10. Although only this one set of articles has survived, it is logical to assume others existed amongst the early aristocrats organizing matches.
11. The 1727 articles are reproduced in full in: Major, J. 2007. More Than a Game: The Story of Cricket’s Early Years (pp. 399–400).
12. New York Gazette Revived: May 6, 1751, p. 2, col. 2. See item 1751.1 on Protoball’s “Cricket in the United States: a working chronology.”
13. This particular request is from a press announcement of a match at the Artillery Grounds in the Daily Post (July 2, 1740).
14. Interestingly, the club rules issued in the 1780s by the White Conduit cricket club are more akin to the original Knickerbocker regulations, with their concern for dinner punctuality, gentlemen-only membership, and other such off-field decorum.
15. See: Morris, P., 2006. A Game of Inches: The Stories behind the Innovations That Shaped Baseball (pp. 32–35). In baseball only a few remnant appeal categories remain where an umpire will not make a judgment unless asked: a batter hitting out of order, a runner failing to touch base on a long hit, a player leaving base too soon after the catch of a sacrifice fly, and the checked swing, which the catcher can appeal to the home plate umpire as a strike.
16. “The Winning Run—‘How is it, Umpire?’” drawn by T. Thulstrup, Harper’s Weekly: Aug. 22, 1885. Collection of Tom Shieber.
17. The Articles of the Game of Cricket, as Settled by the Several Cricket Clubs, Particularly That of the Star and Garter, in Pall-mall…. J. Williams, 39 Fleet Street, 1774.
18. Rait Kerr, The Laws of Cricket, 24.
19. Spirit of the Times: Jan. 31, 1857.

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